Gertrude Stein – A Bold Experimenter

“Writing and reading is to me synonymous with existing.”

Gertrude Stein


If I was ever asked who I would like to spend an afternoon with, I would choose Gertrude Stein.   After all, she lived in Paris surrounded by all that she loved best – art, music, poetry, food and wine.   Her residence at the salon, 27 rue de Fleurus on the Left Bank, was a gathering place for the “new moderns,” the talented young artists who would help define the idea of modernism in literature and art.  Imagine what it would be like to experience the conversations of Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Claribel & Etta Cone,  James Joyce, Thornton Wilder, in the formative stages of the modernist movement.   Her salon was indeed “A Moveable Feast” just as Ernest Hemingway described.

Gertrude Stein had very little use for the narrative, linear and time-orientated conventions of 19th century literature.   A self-proclaimed genius, she preferred to experiment in her writing.   Her poetry is not easy to read or understand, but there is drama, wit and boldness in her choice of words.  Many believe that she was creating portraits with words, much like Picasso was with paints.

To celebrate National Poetry Month, I chose Christian Bérard which is focused on food and eating.  I confess, it is easy to stumble over the words, but I found the more I read this poem aloud, the more I appreciated the nuances.  Since I have not included the full poem, I would encourage you to explore it at Poetry Foundation, an excellent resource for poetry.

Christian Bérard

By Gertrude Stein

Eating is her subject.

       While eating is her subject.

       Where eating is her subject.

       Withdraw whether it is eating which is her subject. Literally

while she ate eating is her subject. Afterwards too and in be-

tween. This is an introduction to what she ate.

       She ate a pigeon and a soufflé.

       That was on one day.

       She ate a thin ham and its sauce.

       That was on another day.

       She ate desserts.

       That had been on one day.

       She had fish grouse and little cakes that was before that day.

       She had breaded veal and grapes that was on that day.

       After that she ate every day.

       Very little but very good.

       She ate very well that day.

       What is the difference between steaming and roasting, she

ate it cold because of Saturday.

       Remembering potatoes because of preparation for part of

the day.

      There is a difference in preparation of cray-fish which makes a

change in their fish for instance.

       What was it besides bread.

       Why is eating her subject.

       There are reasons why eating is her subject.





Published by Rebecca Budd

Blogger, Visual Storyteller, Podcaster, Traveler and Life-long Learner

26 thoughts on “Gertrude Stein – A Bold Experimenter

  1. I like artists who experiment, but not those who do it just for the sake of being “experimental”. It’s easy to spot the difference between the two types. This particular poem is fun/funny. 🙂


    1. I agree wholeheartedly re experimental artist. It is the difference between “look at me” and “what do you think of this idea?”

      I listened to three poets discuss this poem which suggested the Gertrude Stein liked eating (don’t we all) and that we could find enjoyment in everyday events. She was painting a portrait, etc. The more I read and reread the poem, however, I felt that Gertrude Stein was reminding us that our bodies require sustenance. We spend a great deal of human effort feeding ourselves, even to the point of obsessing over the details. Perhaps that is why we should give “eating” our full consideration. Just my take….

      One thing is certain – a lot of food was consumed in this poem. Thank you for stopping by – you always give my day a lift.


  2. P.S. ”We don’t find loneliness, we simply create it. Imagine being at the bottom of a hole, in almost total isolation and discovering that only writing will save you… Writing also means to shut up. To be quiet, to scream silently. Writing has never abandoned me… Don’t do anything else but just write!”(Marguerite Duras – Writing)
    * * *
    “Write because you need to write. Write to settle the rage within you. Write with an internal purpose. Write about something or someone that means so much to you, that you don’t care what others think…”(Nick Miller – “Isn’t It Pretty To Think So?”)


    1. I am so glad you enjoyed the poem. I think that you would find the poem “Two Women” that she wrote for Etta and Claribel Cone quite fascinating. It was very easy to get lost in that one as well.

      “There were two of them, they were sisters, they were large women, they were rich, they were very different one from the other one.” Gertrude Stein


  3. Oh how I would love to sit in Stein’s salon as well! I first discovered her through her ‘memoir’ The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and, as I was still living in Paris at the time, would walk by her building which was nearby and imagine her there.


    1. Oh Letizia – I have been wanting to read this biography. So tonight, as I was reading your comments, I decided to check out I am delighted to report that I have just downloaded via Kindle “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” for the grand total of $0.99 CAD! I love our new technologies!!

      How wonderful to live in Paris and be able to walk by “her building.” Do you have a blog post about your Paris journey?


      1. I’m actually French and moved to the US a few years ago so my posts are more about my adventures here, haha! I did write about Gertrude Stein a while back but will have to track that one down. You’re going to love her book!!!


      2. I am so excited about finding the book – so easy now with our technology (thank you again). I will be on the look out for the posts! 🙂 🙂 🙂


      3. Thank you for this link, Letizia!!! A most excellent, memorable post! 🙂 I remember when I first hit the “publish” button. I was hyperventilating! 🙂 🙂 🙂


  4. I see what you mean about her poetry being hard to understand! I coped well with the part that you read but got quite lost when I read the rest of the poem. Speaking of food and poetry and unusual poets, what do you think about this and I have had such a good smile today thanks to you and Gertrude and Ivor. 🙂 ps I am not sure how I would have coped with the cigarette smoke at the ‘gathering place’.


    1. I never thought about the cigarette smoke! Of course, the air would be filled with it! As for getting lost in her poetry – I know exactly what you mean. The exercise of reading the words aloud, over and over again, was fun. I found that the more I read the more I came to understand what it was all about. What really helped was a discussion on this poem on a podcast. It is about 20 minutes long, but just in case you want to hear it, here is the link.

      Thank you for Ivor Cutler! I have not had a chance to read his poetry in depth! But I am heading to Glasgow this summer (following the bagpipes) so this is an excellent way to begin the journey, ahead of time. He has a wonderful website:


      1. An excellent podcast. I feel as though I now understand Gertrude Stein a little better. Thank you. Glasgow this exciting. It’s amazing where the bagpipes will take you. 🙂


  5. I’d love to join you and Gertrude Stein, Rebecca! Thanks a lot for introducing the Poetry Foundation, it’s much appreciated! By the way, did you see “Midnight in Paris” by Woody Allan? And if you did, did you think his portrait of Gertrude Stein was right?
    Sunny greetings from Norway, Dina xo


    1. I loved “Midnight in Paris” and I especially liked Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein. Perhaps it was because she was able to portray a woman who was able to bring together talented people who enjoyed the art of conversation. It was a genial story line, however I think the authentic histories of these people were even more remarkable and interesting.

      We would have enjoyed the company, the dialogue and the sizzle of Paris in the 1920’s. But like Gil, I think that we would come back to our time, and find that this is where we belong. Hugs and sunny (and rainy) greetings from Vancouver. The weather can’t decide what it wants to be! ❤


      1. Thanx for this article-hommage to Miss Stein and the lost generation… lots of Americans loved Paris and spent some time in our capital… Btw, I also loved Woody Allen’s movie, another American, popular, appreciated and respected here, in “old Europe”, who comes to France several times/year… 🙂
        * * *
        mille merci for dropping by my playground, my very best and good luck in all your endeavours… bonne-nuit in BC! 🙂 cheers, Mélanie


      2. I enjoy following your blog!!! I agree with you – “Midnight in Paris” was a great movie. I want to read more about the ‘lost generation.’ I just finished David McCullough’s “The Greater Journey, Americans in Paris” that spoke to those who came to Paris in the 1800’s. Now I want to move ahead in time. I think that you will enjoy this brief synopsis.


      3. Hi Rebecca,

        I don’t know why I kept on missing your posts. I had to particularly look for you every time. I do not remember if i talked about this movie and the Stein exhibition before. It was that season when the movie Midnight in Paris was on, and the exhibition of Stein’s collections was on in SFMOMA. My sister Alice was in town visiting from Canada. I saw the movie and the exhibition before she came. When she came, I particularly arranged a day of museum visit to SFMOMA followed by movie (Midnight in Paris), We all enjoyed so much, seeing Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Matisse and many more…., right after we saw the real paintings in SFMOMA!



      4. I loved watching “Midnight in Paris.” In fact, I watched it several times. And the timing of your visit to SFMOMA was perfect.

        I have found out that I need to follow people’s post via e-mail. It seems that when anyone changes themes (which I did) posts do not appear in the reader until you “unfollow” and then “follow” again. Not certain why that is – but I find that e-mail notifications work. Your visits are always so very much appreciated. 🙂 ❤


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